On Friday 1st August 2014, Sight & Sound revealed the winner of their Greatest Documentaries of All Time poll. It was the 1929 silent documentary from the USSR, Man With A Movie Camera. Paul, making his debut on Failed Critics, has some choice words to say about a number of the inclusions in their top 10 list and picks the films that should be there instead. None of which feature potatoes.
by Paul Field (@pafster)
There’s a list of the best documentaries ever made knocking about, published by Sight & Sound. For those that don’t know, it’s a monthly publication about film (not films, or movies mind, it’s definitely film). The list has been compiled by 237 critics, curators and academics. Of course it has. If ever there was a self-aggrandizing pissing contest of a list, “no, I adore the 46 second 1895 classic, ‘La Sortie des usines Lumière à Lyon’“. I bet they don’t you know, they just want their peers to think that they do.
I even gave some of the ones I’d not seen a watch. My favourite was The Gleaners & I, an experimental (uh oh) French documentary about potatoes, old fridges, weird animal animations and some avant-garde jazz. A poorly made mess that has nothing to say and is quite frankly a pile of shit, yet is lovingly gushed over by these clowns – sorry, curators and critics. At one point, I went to watch another of the titles, only to discover a run-time of over 10 hours. TEN HOURS!
As a list of documentaries that have historical significance, sure, fill ya boots, but that these are the ‘best’ documentaries ever made is absurd. There’s only a few of their picks I’d include. So, whilst I theatrically stick a middle finger up at their effort, here’s a far more friendly and accessible list: lunatics, love, sex, crime, douche bags, heroes and freaks abound in these films. If you’re looking for footage of a lens cap swinging in the breeze set to jazz? Move on, this wont be for you.
10. Capturing The Friedmans (Andrew Jarecki) 2003
Jarecki set out to make a film about children’s entertainers and it turned into something very, very different. Who do you believe? Sinister, revelatory and downright shocking.
9. American Movie (Chris Smith) 1999
Laugh and cry your way through Mark Borchardt and his merry band of inept friends attempting to make a movie, in what is one of the finest ‘car-crash’ documentaries ever made.
8. Winnebago Man (Ben Steinbauer) 2009
Jack fucking Rebney, fucking swears like fuckery. Watch Steinbauer track down the man behind the Winnebago sales video outtakes that started life being passed around on VHS.
7. The Queen of Versailles (Lauren Greenfield) 2012
More rubber necking a car crash as we spend time with Jackie Siegel as she attempts to build the world’s biggest (and most vulgar) house. It’s all going so well until the financial crisis hits (although their idea of cutting back and ours… not quite the same thing and will make your blood boil over even more).
6. Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog) 2005
Werner Herzog, you crazy loveable fool you. Here he documents bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell, a man who believed Bears trusted him and he could approach and touch them. See how that works out for him…
5. The Thin Blue Line (Errol Morris) 1988
This is the only entry that features on the top 10 of both lists. Errol Morris changed the way investigative documentaries are made. People talk about influential or important, this paved the way to save lives.
4. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (Seth Gordon) 2007
You might think this is about a rivalry over Donkey Kong (a 1980’s video game), but it’s not, it’s about what is the biggest douche bag ever committed to celluloid. Fist chewing cringe overload of the finest order.
3. Tabloid (Errol Morris) 2010
Joyce McKinney and the Mormon in Chains, it’s so completely batshit crazy, that you’ll be struggling to believe this really happened. Just when you think it can’t get any stranger…. It does.
2. The English Surgeon (Geoffrey Smith) 2009
The heart-warming, heartbreaking and utterly wonderful tale of English Neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, as he spends his free time travelling to and helping patients in the Ukraine. A proper tear jerker is this, no chance of a dry eye in the house.
The West Memphis Three case, covered by three investigative docs by Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky, over a period of 16 years. The journey (and trust me, this is a journey) that Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols, and Jessie Misskelley take is tragic, terrifying and utterly compelling viewing that should be seen by everyone.
So there we have it, that list will make you laugh and cry and doesn’t feature potatoes, trust me, unless you’re a curator then you’re balls deep in a 1934 Russian experimental mining documentary and don’t care anyway.
Honourable mentions here of those that missed the cut, but are absolutely worth your time and any and all could appear in that top 10. Great Hip Hop Hoax, I Think We’re Alone Now, TalhotBlond, Hell House, Project Nim, Searching for Sugarman, Bronies: The Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony, F*CK, This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Shooting Bigfoot, 101, Cleanflix, The Cove, Gasland.
You can find the full Sight & Sound list here and see just what got Paul quite so worked up exactly.